Regulation changes, which included a displacement limit of 3-litre, rendered the Jaguar D-Type virtually obsolete for the 1958 season. By then the iconic Jaguar had won Le Mans three times in a row. The Works team had already withdrawn from active racing at the end of 1956, having clinched the important Le Mans race four times in the last six attempts. In 1957 privateer teams like Ecurie Ecosse and Briggs Cunningham continued to race the D-Type, with the former adding a third victory to the machine's tally. Some D-Types were equipped with 3-litre engines for 1958, but the limited power available really exposed the weaknesses of the chassis and engine.
Jaguar founder William Lyons had not discarded the D-Type with its thoroughly modern semi-monocoque chassis at all. From 1957 onwards he used the now defunct racing department to turn the D-Type into a proper road car to replace the XK-series. The first 'E-Type' prototype was constructed later that year and bore close similarities to its racing counterpart. It was dubbed the E1A in reference to its aluminium monocoque chassis. The biggest difference was the adoption of fully independent rear suspension, replacing the archaic live-axle used on the D-Type. Equipped with a relatively small version of the XK straight six engine, E1A was extensively tested and only rarely seen in public.
Far away from the public eye, Jaguar's engineers continued their work. Turning a racing car into a production road car clearly took some time. For financial and practical reasons it was decided that the chassis of the road car should be constructed from steel instead of aluminium. It took a further three years before the second E-Type prototype was built. Even though it featured the steel semi-monocoque chassis, it was still dubbed E2A. Construction commenced early in 1960 and the completed machine was ready for testing in March. William Lyons clearly felt that cars were best tested under racing conditions, so E2A was finished as a racing car.
As mentioned earlier the chassis of E2A followed the familiar pattern of the D-Type with a monocoque centre-section and a front subframe, which housed the suspension and engine. The difference was the use of the much cheaper and more durable steel instead of the lighter aluminium, as well as the incorporation of fully independent rear suspension. In accordance with the latest regulations, Jaguar fitted E2A with an all-aluminium three litre engine. Equipped with the highly advanced Lucas Fuel Injection system, it produced close to 300 bhp. The car was finished off with an aluminium body similar to the D-Type, although with only a little imagination the final shape of the E-Type road car could be distinguished.
Long time Jaguar privateer Briggs Cunningham was asked to run the car. Cunningham entered the car the 24 Hours of Le Mans race and sent over two of America's most talented drivers; Dan Gurney and Walt Hansgen. Liveried in American racing colours pioneered by Cunningham almost a decade earlier, E2A proved quick straight out of the box. Despite its heavier 'production' chassis, E2A clocked the second quickest time in practice. Thanks to Malcolm Sayer's efficient design complete with a gallant fin on the headrest, the Jaguar was believed to be the fastest car down the Mulsanne. In the race a split injector pipe caused delays early on and eventually E2A's retirement after the engine seized altogether.
For the American road racing season, E2A was fitted with a larger, D-Type engine. Once in the United States, Hansgen immediately score a victory, although in a minor race at Bridgehampton. He came very close to beating the much higher rated competition during the Road America 500, but eventually had to settle for second. For the prestigious Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside, Cunningham called in the service of newly crowned Formula 1 World Champion Jack Brabham. He struggled to keep up with the lightweight specials and eventually finished 10th. His Cooper team-mate Bruce McLaren was handed E2A next for the Laguna Seca Pacific Grand Prix. Plagued with small problems, he could do no better than 12th in one of the two heats.
At the end of the 1960 season, E2A was shipped back to the Jaguar factory in England and was retired from racing. A few months later the final production E-Type was unveiled at the 1961 Geneva Motorshow and the rest, so they say, is history. The introduction of the road car did not mean the of E2A's usefulness. It was first used to test Dunlop's Maxaret anti-lock braking system. After being stored for several years, E2A was called upon one more time, as a decoy. To divert the attention of the media for the new mid-engined XJ13, E2A was very publicly tested. For this purpose the big fin was removed and the car was painted British Racing Green. The third task was to be E2A's final one before being placed on the list to be scrapped.
Fortunately Jaguar's customer competition car manager Roger Woodley stepped in. He had recently married Penny Griffiths, who with her father Guy had brought together an impressive collection of important Jaguars, which were displayed Camden Car Collection. After much persuading, Jaguar decided to sell E2A under the condition that it was never to be raced. Before delivery, the car was repainted in the American racing colours, but not refitted with the fin or the 3-litre fuel injected engine. Shortly after Griffiths received a 3.8 litre D-Type engine, which turned E2A in a fully operational car again. Eventually the family also obtained a correct all-aluminium fuel injected engine, but it was never fitted to the car.
Honouring the agreement with Jaguar, E2A was never raced, although it did make various public appearances in the hands of Penny Griffiths. She has brought the car back to Le Mans and also demonstrated the unique machine at both Goodwoods. After more than forty years of ownership, she decided to let go of this much prized possession. E2A was offered at Bonhams' Quail Auction in August of 2008. Prices of up to $7 million were expected before the auction, but the long time owner was happy to let the unique Jaguar go for $4.5 million, a world record for a Jaguar sold at auction. The new owner, an prominent Austrian Jaguar collector, carefully prepared E2A for competition and brought it out for the 2010 Le Mans Classic on the 50th anniversary of its first appearance.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on July 22, 2010
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